Abstract: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Racial Equity in Educational Outcomes: Examining the Protective Role of Positive Childhood Experiences (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Racial Equity in Educational Outcomes: Examining the Protective Role of Positive Childhood Experiences

Friday, January 13, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Riya Bhatt, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Houston, Houston
Sharon Borja, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
J. Mark Eddy, PhD, Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin
Background: Academic success is an important determinant of future social, economic, and life expectancy outcomes. Yet evidence shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) could threaten the foundation of positive health and educational outcomes, especially for minoritized youth (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) in the U.S. In particular, Black children accumulate more ACEs and attain lower academic outcomes than their White, non-Hispanic peers. While the evidence that links ACEs to compromised various life outcomes is clear, relatively absent from the literature are the protective factors that could buffer the effects of ACEs, especially on youth educational outcomes. Despite evidence that supports positive childhood experiences’ (PCEs) role in promoting positive adolescent outcomes, their buffering role in the context of ACEs is underexplored. To address these gaps, we tested a moderated mediation model hypothesizing the direct and indirect relations between ACES, PCEs, and high school grades. Given racial disparities in ACEs, we also examined whether similar patterns can be observed with PCEs, and whether race moderates the hypothesized mediated associations.

Methods: We used 6 waves of data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (N=4,898) with a racially diverse and gender-balanced sample. Only youth interviewed during wave 6 (age 15) were included in our analysis (n= 3,437). ACEs included 11 adverse experiences (e.g., child abuse/neglect; exposure to community violence; bullying) from 0-9 years. PCEs included 13 indicators of positive experiences (individual, school, and neighborhood level). Educational outcome was based on high school grades in Language Arts, Math, Science, and History. Covariates included gender and economic hardship. Mean differences were compared using ANOVA. We tested the hypothesized direct, mediated, and moderated mediated associations using Generalized Linear Model.

Results: Results supported the hypothesized direct associations between study variables, the buffering effect of PCEs, and the moderating role of race. Findings also demonstrate racial disparities in ACEs, PCEs, and high school grades. Black youth accumulated more ACEs, less PCEs, and attained lower grades than their non-Hispanic, White and Latino peers. No differences were observed between White and Latino youth. ACEs score was negatively associated with overall grade average (B=-.056, SE=.011) and with each specific subject (Language Arts, Math, Science, and History). A similar pattern was observed with PCEs, where more PCEs was linked to better overall average (B=-.040, SE=.004) and grades in each of the four subjects. Finally, results supported the hypothesized buffering effect of PCEs (B=-.012, SE=.002) and the moderating role of race on the association between PCEs and grades.

Discussion/Conclusion: Findings suggest that despite the negative effects of ACEs on educational outcomes, PCEs are promising targets of intervention to improve overall school performance. Findings regarding the significant moderating role of race further indicate that a tailored approach to intervention development versus a one-size-fits all approach could better benefit Black youth who disproportionately experience more ACEs and fewer PCEs. Implications towards the role of school social workers in promoting racial equity in PCEs and educational outcomes will be discussed.